I designed and participated in training to five women of varied nationalities and social backgrounds. There were three women from Nepal and two from Uganda (Nirmala Basnet, Chandni, Shanti Thapa from Nepal and Shira Negesa and Alice from Uganda). The training session was tailored to make them aware of their rights and entitlements. Throughout the world migrant, populations face challenges and difficulties in the destination countries.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 71.4 per cent of the total population of the United Arab Emirates is immigrants[i]. Nonetheless, there is no data available on what percentage of this total migrant population is female. However, reports from sending countries suggest that 70-80 per cent of migrants are females and they from the Philippines. The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) at theUniversityof Dhaka is a think tank on migration in Bangladesh and it reports a steady increase of female workers leaving for the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Out of the 15 million Indians in the UAE, reported by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, as of April 2009, unconfirmed sources indicate at least one million are women; every year more than 30,000 (including undocumented) female workers migrate to UAE( United Nations, Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision, data in digital form, 2006. Accessed 15 December ).
Due to the nature of domestic work or other types of work, which is private and often “invisible,” women migrant domestic workers are thus especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. There are cases of physical violence, sexual abuse, withholding of passports, restrictions on mobility and communications, and even death while trying to escape. Those who do manage to escape had no access to legal services and redress; many become irregular migrants[ii]and face deportation when they refuse to go back to their employers, as per the sponsorship system.
Thus, my training module was formulated to disseminate the awareness about these issues. I didn’t choose the woman with white collar jobs. I chose a sample of five migrant women who, from my experience with them, don’t speak up about their plight. They say tight lipped all the time. I also had to keep their identity anonymous. I had to make sure they were secure after the training as well. I had to train them in a closed room because they wanted to keep it a secret. They didn’t want to expose themselves to any harsh punishment from the employers.
It was a challenging as well as an exciting experience for me as a trainer. From ground work till the completion of the proposed training, I was an intrinsic part of the entire program. It wasn’t easy, though. From the start, I faced many a challenge. I did the random sampling and decided the number of women. I had to look at other security issues that would have been a real challenge for them as well as for me. The most daring act was to persuade them to talk about themselves, their issues and constrictions they face day in and day out. At first, they were reluctant to speak about their plight and the struggle they face every day, but as I proceeded to create a bond of oneness, they started revealing their inner feelings. While talking to them, I could see an ocean of pain and desperation. In the very first instance, they were reluctant to speak. It was difficult for me to motivate them. Oftentimes they asked why I am “after them” and what do I need from them. These questions smelled mistrust. I could see there were many questions for me to answer. They were hesitant at first. They were unwilling to reveal their stories but, I didn’t lose heart.
As time went by, over the hour of the workshop, the six of us felt increasingly comfortable. Everyone among my group had a story to tell. All of them are brave women who, besides tragic lives carry on every day with a big smile. They are the breadwinners of their families. They are unsatisfied with the systems here. Behind those sparkling and bubbly smiles is a sickening life, a life full of miseries. All the five women want to go back to their countries but, they have to be here to earn a living. While talking to them, I realized they have no knowledge about their rights and entitlements. They were unaware of the labor laws here. They didn’t know there have been amendments to the labor law here in UAE. With their consent, I offered them information. First, they agreed to attend the training session for just 30 minutes but, later I convinced them for one hour and 10 minutes.
I couldn’t use Skype or any other digital media because each one of them live in a shared accommodation with 10 women in a single room. They have no privacy and they showed their reluctance of using Skype as the other women might get to know what they are up to. They said “no” to Skype and no to photographs.
Keeping the situation in view, I decided to talk with them one-on-one rather than using a PowerPoint Presentation (PPT) or any other digital media. Since three women were from Nepal and two were from Uganda, the best way to speak was in English and one-to-one with the group. I decided to do the workshop in a friend’s room so that they were safe and comfortable during the training.
Again, the training was to acquaint them with their rights and the laws of UAE. As expats, their employers withhold their passport, which means they have to surrender their identity for the time being. That is cruel. Withholding a passport means you are making them slaves. In a way, they lose their identity during this time. They can’t look for better opportunities because they are bonded laborers. Prior to the training they didn’t know that UAE labor laws have changed since January 2016(New UAE Law to take off from January 2016, 2016). It was a very interesting training session. I could see a sparkle in their eyes. They were charged women ready to be a change to make a change. I charged them with a spark so that in near future they became a torch.
Prior to the training, these women were ignorant of the law. They were fearful and shy. They hardly spoke about themselves. Once we got to know each other, they started conversing on day to day struggle. They discussed their personal lives. I could see the emptiness in their eyes. Once we befriended each other, they started opening up; revealing things, speaking what was buried in their hearts.
At the beginning, I was worried because none of them were ready to comply and listen to me. They didn’t trust me. To them, I was a stranger. They were skeptical and building trust was a difficult job for me. Today, we are like friends. We feel for each other now. We don’t exchange money rather each day we exchange big wide smiles. We hold hands to make a small difference. These five women taught me to be patient. They taught me to keep smiling no matter what. They taught me life is a challenge. They taught me to keep going no matter what comes in between. At the end of this training, I learned persistence is the success.
Next time when I get a chance to train women, I shall look at these women to take the lead. I shall be in the background and let them run the show. I would love to speak to a wider audience so that the voices could echo in all directions. I want to spread happiness all over. I want gladness in the eyes of women rather than fear. I want them to ignite a larger group of women. I will surely use digital action to awaken women folk all over. They are my change agents and they will lead towards a change.
[ii] The term ‘irregular migration’ typically refers to the cross-border flow of people who enter a country without that country’s legal permission to do so